Gregory Nazianzus

On divorce



Verianus, a citizen of Nazianzus, had been offended by his son-in-law, and on this account wished his daughter to sue for a divorce. Olympius, prefect of Cappadocia Secunda, referred the matter to the Episcopal arbitration of S. Gregory, who refused to countenance the proceeding, and writes the two following letters, the first to the Prefect, the second to Verianus himself. [Note that Gregory refers to a difference of view between Christian regulations and Roman law; also, he refers to the fact that Christians were entitled to seek judgement or legal redress from a bishop, bypassing the regular judicial system.]

EP. CXLIV

TO OLYMPIUS

Haste is not always praiseworthy. For this reason I have deferred my answer until now about the daughter of the most honorable Verianus, both to allow for time setting matters right, and also because I conjecture that Your Goodness does not approve of the divorce, inasmuch as you entrusted the enquiry to me, whom you knew to be neither hasty nor uncircumspect in such matters. Therefore I have refrained myself till now, and, I venture to think, not without reason. But since we have come nearly to the end of the allotted time, and it is necessary that you should be informed of the result of the examination I will inform you. The young lady seems to me to be of two minds, divided between reverence for her parents and affection for her husband. Her words are on their side, but her mind, I rather think, is with her husband, as is shewn by her tears. You will do what commends itself to your justice, and to God who directs you in all things. I should most willingly have given my opinion to my son Verianus that he should pass over much of what is in question, with a view not to confirm the divorce, which is entirely contrary to our law, though the Roman law may determine otherwise. For it is necessary that justice be observed &emdash; which I pray you may ever both say and do.

 

EP. CXLV

TO VERIANUS

Public executioners commit no crime, for they are the servants of the laws: nor is the sword unlawful with which we punish criminals. But nevertheless, the public executioner is not a laudable character, nor is the death-bearing sword received joyfully. Just so neither can I endure to become hated by confirming the divorce by my hand and tongue. It is far better to be the means of union and of friendship than of division and parting of life. I suppose it was with this in his mind that our admirable Governor entrusted me with the enquiry about your daughter, as one who could not proceed to divorce abruptly or unfeelingly. For he proposed me not as Judge, but as Bishop, and placed me as a mediator in your unhappy circumstances. I beg you therefore, to make some allowance for my timidity, and if the better prevail, to use me as a servant of your desire: I rejoice in receiving such commands. But if the worse and more cruel course is to be taken, seek for some one more suitable to your purpose. I have not time, for the sake of favouring your friendship (though in all respects I have the highest regard for you), to offend against God, to Whom I have to give account of every action and thought. I will believe your daughter (for the truth shall be told) when she can lay aside her awe of you, and boldly declare the truth. At present her condition is pitiable &emdash; for she assigns her words to you, and her tears to her husband.


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Last modified 15 February 1998